Turbos and small engines go together like scotch and ice. Volvo’s done the scotch and ice with its S60 T5 R-Design, taking a 2.0L petrol engine and throwing on a hairdryer, adding in a smooth auto and some sweet interior design work to provide a comfortable work place. Then there’s a 3.0L turbo to play with and a northern hemisphere name….A Wheel Thing loads the R-Design up with three adults and two kids for a week and takes the (as tested) $71000 car for a cruise to the NSW Central Coast then follows up with the Polestar (call it $100K), this time, to the South Coast, via Canberra.
Not unexpectedly, power is peaky, 180kW at 5500 revs, but there’s a mesa flat 350Nm of torque from 1500 through to 4800 revs in the T5. In a car that weighs 1600 kg, that equates to a top speed of 230 klicks, passing 100 in a lick over six seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 6.4L per 100 kilometres on a combined cycle from a tank of 67.5 litres. It’s joined to a eight speed dual clutch automatic transmission (with paddle shifts on the steering column), driving the front wheels and comes with Stop/Start technology plus a full suite of safety and driver assist technology. Polestar gets 257kW (5700 rpm) and over 500 Nm (3000 to 4750 revs) and puts power down via all four paws through a six speed auto. It’s a touch heavier, at 1770 kg and somewhat thirstier, at 10.2L/100 km. Polestar gets an extra level of tech, with Launch Control, adjustable suspension thanks to Ohlins, Brembo brakes and breathes out via stainless steel pipes.
The S60 (S for sedan, natch), is a short tailed, long bonneted beauty, with overt and subtle curves, plus a single sensually curved crease line joining the headlights to the rear lights. It’s not tall at just 1484mm in height, is compact at 4635mm in length and has front/rear track of 1588mm/1585mm, sits on a wheelbase of 2776mm and gains some subtle R-Design and Polestar additions, including a restyled front bumper (extra chin on Polestar), a small bootlip spoiler, aluminuim look (R-Design, Polestar gets black) wing mirror covers and gorgeous (optional) 5 spoke diamond cut wheels, black and alloy in colour with 8 x 19 inch dimensions for the R-Design with Polestar getting similar colour but different design alloys of the same size, black striping at the bottom of the doors and both copping integrated LED running lights complementing “bending” Xenon headlights plus personal safety comes with Home Safe lighting. Rounding out the rear is a diffuser featuring dual exhaust tips for both.
Passengers are spoiled by being given comfortable, grippy R-Design/Polestar highlighted, leather seats (with perfortaions in the R-Design), electrically motivated for the driver (both in Polestar) and heated for both. They look fantastic and support both legs and torso nicely. The leather theme continues with the gear lever (Polestar is a clear top with coloured LED) and steering wheel, there’s the floating centre console (black surround) and the gorgeous fully digital dash display. R-Design emblems appear in the door sills whilst the Polestar gets “Engineered By Polestar”. It’s a comfortable workspace, a good looking one however the compact design did make it cozy for three in the back, with 1401mm shoulder room and 1359mm hip room on offer, plus just 852mm leg room. The overall size of the car also contributes to the comparitively small boot space, at just 380L, but there is a ski port through to the main cabin.
The information screens that Volvo fits look great, as does the satnav, however I query the way the info is set up to be accessed, with the various jog dials and buttons only working for what is on the screen. I also feel it redundant to have a push button start system that requires a key to be inserted. Either put a key in and twist or make it keyless start (as seen in the Polestar….). There’s plenty of tech on board, including CitySafe, a radar system that’ll apply the brakes automatically if it senses a vehicle (or anything big enough) in its path, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Information System and more. It’s also decreasing the need for user manuals, with an onboard “book” largely replacing a traditional manual, however it still takes a bit of digging to come close to finding half of the information you may be looking for. Auto Start/Stop is switchable on the R-Design.
The headlight switch is down to the right, above the driver’s knee, as are switches for boot and petrol lid; they work however, ergonomically, they’re out of sightline and there’s pluses and minuses on that. The tiller has a couple of flat spots left and right, just enough to place the palms and get a secure grip.
On The Road.
Quiet. Very quiet. That’s the exhaust I’m talking about for the R-Design. Road noise? That’s another matter; there’s a lot of it and it’s intrusive. Acceleration? The week the R-Design spent with A Wheel Thing was with five aboard all of the time and, as a result, it felt muted. The 350 torques didn’t appear to be there but this was with approximately 200 extra kilos of human aboard, with the expected display of urge not being felt. Also not being felt was torque steer through the front wheels, with the car tracking straight and true when given the command. Polestar has a thrum through the exhaust at around 2000 rpm and becomes a hollow, somewhat tiresome drone at constant speed on the freeway, especially on coarse chip and concrete surfaces. Under acceleration though, there’s a metallic growl that turns into a snarl as revolutions climb. Fuel economy on the R-Design was decent, rarely sneaking abouve 9.0L per 100, with the eight speed ‘box slurring its way through nicely under acceleration and giving a moment’s hesitation between changes on light throttle, giving an impression of manual change. The six speed in the Polestar is reactive enough, rarely found wanting for the right ratio and is quick to move via Sports mode. There’s proprietary software on board, allowing the ‘box to be put in Sports mode, play with the traction control or DTSC as it’s known, however I can’t help but feel that if a seven or eight speed box was fitted the economy of the car would improve…
Although a taut suspension in the R-Design, there’s enough suppleness to provide a measure of comfort, a measure of compliance with just enough give initially to not break the teeth. Tipping the R-Design into turns also produced surefooted handling, with minimal understeer backed up by a settling of the chassis when the go pedal was pressed. But there’s that thing missing, the aural excitement, with barely a hint of exhaust noise emitted. Not terribubly exciting, sadly. However, on idle, there’s chatter from the four up front, prompting one wag to ask if it was a diesel. Indeed. R-Design also came with the Auto Stop/Start, switchable for use by a button and in city traffic it was turned off.
Polestar is harder edged, to the point that it’s uncomfortable on anything other than a reasonably flat surface, with cat’s eyes roadside more than noticeable, making smaller speedhumps (car parks) and bigger (roads) bad enough to jolt a person momentarily from their seat. Although the car comes with adjustable suspension, front and rear, it’s only done manually, via the bottom of the front right strut and from inside the boot atop the left rear. This would infer that it’s only to be done via experienced people, rather than offering an electronically adjustable setup from within the cabin.
On the flat the S60 pair are comfortable, with initial give ironing out any road niggles in the R-Design while the Polestar didn’t. There wasn’t any noticeable torque steer either in the front wheel drive T5, however with a constant passenger load it may have been dialled out. The rear drive bias of the Polestar was barely noticeable but the heavier steering was. Occasionally, too, there would be a subtle tugging of the steering wheel in the T5, done by the car itself; it’s a self straightening system, for lack of better explanation, for when the lane sensing system decides to try and keep the car between the white lines. Great tech but hard to find in the menus.
It’s a technofest under the skin, it’s a pretty looking car, it’s comfortable seating wise and seated five well enough. The R-Design was thrifty enough on fuel, handled as expected and is certainly a competent package. But I handed it over, swapping to the Polestar, uncertain as to how I felt about it overall. It was that uncertainty that both irritated and baffled me. Part of me wanted to love it yet I felt unsatisfied, like buying an expensive scotch only to have it taste like a brand much cheaper. The expectations I had were met yet the subconscious expectations weren’t. The lack of exhaust tone from the R-Design and the opposing drone from Polestar, the somewhat fiddly access of info, the (possible) lack of urge the numbers offer versus the thirst….cars are different to different people. To make up your own mind, go to www.volvo.com.au and follow the links to check out the S60 range and book yourself a test drive.
The Car: Volvo S60 T5 R-Design and Polestar.
Engine: 2.0L petrol, turbo, four cylinder, 3.0L petrol, turbo, straight six.
Power/Torque: 180kW @ 5500 rpm, 350Nm @ 1500 to 4800 rpm. 257kW @ 5700 rpm, 500+ Nm @ 3000 to 4750 rpm.
Fuel: 95/98 RON.
Weight: 1602 kg, 1770kg.
Economy: 6.4L/100 km (combined). 8.7L/100km (city)/5.1L/100km (highway). 10.2L/100km (combined), 14.5L/100 km (city), 7.3L/100km (highway).
Transmission: eight speed automatic via front driven wheels.
Dimensions (LxWxH in mm): 4635 x 1825 x 1484.
Wheelbase/Track: 2776mm, 1588/1585mm (front and rear).
Wheels/Tyres: 8 x 19 x 45.
Price: $63890 + ORCs, $99950 + ORCs.
As tested: $70990, $99950.